2020 has started well with the announcement that BBSRC has awarded £90k to Imperial College, Open Bioeconomy Lab, MboaLab, KNUST (Ghana) and the University of Nairobi (Kenya) under their Global Challenge Research Fund Strategic Training Awards for Research Skills programme. Our proposal was for equipping the next generation of innovative biological engineers to develop disease diagnostics for Africa (BioENGINE Africa STAR).
BioENGINE Africa will introduce synthetic biology research skills training into African universities by offering graduate-level courses in engineering or biotechnology to underpin demand for these skills in research relevant to biotechnology and building bioeconomies, which is a strategic priority for the African Union.
Synthetic biology education to support a bioeconomy
Synthetic biology offers rich interdisciplinary educational opportunities at the intersection of chemistry, biology, engineering, computer science and design and we aim to equip researchers with essential skills to meet real-world challenges in human, animal, plant and environmental health through development of diagnostics using a design, build and test cycles approach. These challenges can be effectively addressed by an interdisciplinary research approach that develops new technology in a holistic and equitable way, led by local scientists, engineers and health workers.
Through BioENGINE Africa we will identify and establish a cohort of 12 talented lecturers from Ghana, Cameroon and Kenya who actively teach graduate-level courses in engineering or biotechnology then train the cohort in the use of effective pedagogies for synthetic biology education, specifically the application of “Design, Build, Test” engineering cycle. We will mentor and support the cohort in their professional development and facilitate the delivery of BioENGINE Africa training to over 150 graduate students.
We aim to design teaching resources including practicals that are meaningful but also affordable and feasible in resource-constrained institutions; thus enabling incorporation of BioENGINE Africa modules into Masters and PhD programmes at the participating institutes. Moreover, our ultimate goal is to inspire and inform researchers who will apply the skills they acquire through the courses to developing impactful diagnostics.
the design, build, test engineering cycle to biotechnology
partners will deliver a two-week course covering all aspects of the DESIGN,
BUILD and TEST engineering cycle as applied to molecular diagnostics using
synthetic biology approaches. The following modules will be included:
- Plasmid design using Benchling open source bioinformatics platform
- Digital workflows with SynBioHub SBOLDesigner and iBioSim
- Modular design of biosensor plasmids
- Molecular strategies for changing biosensor characteristics
- In silico modelling of biosensor circuits
- DNA assembly standards
- DNA assembly techniques including low-cost methods such as Golden Gate
- Recombinant protein expression
- Automation (sponsorship of instruments supported by OpenTrons)
- Fluorescence assays using DIY fluorimeters
BioENGINE Africa will run over 12 months in three cycles from April 2020 to March 2021 and all educational resources including the website, videos and protocols will be openly licensed using Creative Commons CC-BY so that they can be used, reused and built upon by others.